DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Aug 30 2010

Just Whistle a Happy Tune

by Veronica W

Balloons. Any occasion calling  for cheap, festive decorations can count on balloons to add just the right touch. They are a staple at fairs, carnivals, store openings, baby showers and birthday parties. They are given to fractious kids to keep them quiet and are used, when filled with water, as weapons in mock war games. Bright, colorful, helium-filled orbs of plastic.  I hate them.

More accurately, I am afraid of them. Even more accurately, I am afraid of their propensity for suddenly popping. When I see a balloon my stomach clenches, my breathing accelerates and my blood pressure rises. I cannot relax until they (or I) go away. Any pleasant meal in a restaurant turns sour and anxiety-filled by the arrival of people about to celebrate with balloons. This abhorrence is not just for balloons but also for fire crackers, exploding champagne corks and thunder. When I was three or four years old, it was also the flash of a camera. A co-worker told me I have  a “heightened startle response.”  Whatever it is, it has ruled my life since…forever.

Phobias come in a kaleidoscopic array. Name some animal, mineral, vegetable,  circumstance or situation and someone, somewhere is probably afraid of it (Remember Indiana Jones’ clenched fist and horrified utterance “Snakes! I hate snakes!?”). If it’s not your fear, you may think the other person just needs some resolve to overcome it. Some phobias have become relatively well known: spiders, enclosed spaces, heights, clowns, injections, flying, germs and dogs. Don’t see yours? Then take a look in The Encyclopedia of Phobias, Fears and Anxieties. You’ll probably find it there. If you don’t, wait until the next edition comes out.

There is a wealth of information and material about phobias.  Even books or movies  ostensibly about something else may have a reference to  a character who has a phobia. Depending on whether you want a serious work of non-fiction or a  lighthearted story, the library provides both.  What Are You Afraid Of ? is a wonderful collection of short stories by well known authors such as Jane Yolen, Angela Johnson and Joan Bauer. In each story the protagonist is beset by a consuming fear but struggles, sometimes hilariously, to conquer it. Ambulance Girl and Nim’s Island also deal with people who lead restricted lives because of their phobias. Both books were made into movies, starring Kathy Bates and Jodie Foster, respectively.

The list of  fearful fictional characters is long, as is the surprising list of celebrity phobics. For instance Keanu Reeves suffers from scotophobia, a dread of darkness and Matthew McConaughey fears tunnels and revolving doors. If you want a more academic or real life approach, then perhaps Wish I Could Be There: Notes From A Phobic Life or Phobias:Fighting the Fear may be worth checking out. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Phobias will be on the shelves soon as well.

In the classic musical, The King and I, Deborah Kerr trills “I whistle a happy tune/And every single time/The happiness in that tune/Convinces me that I’m not afraid.” If only it were that easy. Are you brave enough to tell what you fear?

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Alison W August 30, 2010 at 9:56 AM

I suffer from Katsaridaphobia.

R Hughes August 30, 2010 at 10:09 AM

I have same fear as Alison W.

Nancy W. August 30, 2010 at 1:22 PM

My afflication is coulrophobia.

Todd Bridges August 30, 2010 at 4:24 PM


Jackie Giddens August 31, 2010 at 1:51 PM

My fear is zoophobia

C.Dodd August 31, 2010 at 2:29 PM

Glad to know I’m not alone. I have a phobia of bugs better known as “Entomophobia”. I honestly believe I was born this way. As long as they stay outside where they belong, then I’m okay. But, as soon as they come inside and invade human space, I’m terrified and I want them all dead! Anxiety sets in, and I’m screaming and running in the opposite direction. Maybe one day I might consider seeking professional help.

Lesley B September 1, 2010 at 11:44 AM

Rollercoasters, but I don’t know if there’s a special word for it.

Cheryl R. September 1, 2010 at 1:57 PM

I have an unnatural fear of dump trucks. This stems from the fact I was totaled by one when I was 16. I learned that loaded dump trucks simply cannot stop within a rasonable distance. Steer clear!

BeachBunny September 2, 2010 at 8:48 PM

Aerophobia — fear of flying. When flying with friends, I pinch them until they are black and blue (you know who you are!) When I sit with strangers, I make them follow every rule. Once I sat next to a teenager who tried to be sly and not use his seatbelt. I told him about my fear and begged him to fasten it — for me. He obliged while saying, “I will, but if we go down, this piece of string is NOT going to help us.” I still pinch, but, as my mother taught me, I don’t talk to strangers.

Greg H. September 4, 2010 at 11:36 AM

I have an unrational fear that people who are confessing their fears will only use the formal name for it so that I STILL won’t know what it is! How will I know if I have it too?

Jimmy L September 7, 2010 at 9:43 AM

Greg, I have no idea what you just said, it went way below my head. Please use the scientific name for that. Thanks. 😉

Lillian September 7, 2010 at 11:35 AM

Shakespeare buffs, remember Julious Caesar’s arrogant statement, “I rather tell thee what is to be feared than what I fear, for ALWAYS I am Caesar!

Shantrice W. September 7, 2010 at 2:29 PM

Cynophobia – fear of dogs
Acrophobia – fear of heights
Aquaphobia – fear of water
For me, it’s specifically a fear of deep water. Lakes, oceans and the like.

David September 7, 2010 at 4:36 PM

I would tell you mine, but regrettably I suffer from gelotophobia.

Nolan R September 15, 2010 at 1:07 PM

I never realized this was a phobia until a few years ago, but I have a deep hatred of chewing gum. I find it totally repulsive and just looking at chewed gum makes my skin crawl and I have to get away from it. And–just for Greg–I looked it up to see if it has a name: chiclephobia.

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